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UPDATE: Boehner Bill Narrowly Passes House, Tabled in Senate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: More details on the House action and information on Senate action are added.

House Speaker John Boehner's debt limit/deficit reduction bill passed the House by a vote of 218-210. Less than two hours later, the Senate voted to table the bill.

In the House, all Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against the measure. In the Senate, the vote was 59-41 to table the bill. Senate Majority Leader Reid also took steps to bring up his own bill. Votes on that are expected late Saturday or Sunday.

There are two major differences between the House and Senate bills. The House bill would raise the debt limit for only for a few months while the Senate bill would raise it until 2013 -- after the next election cycle. Also, the House bill would make any future increase in the debt limit contingent on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution being signed into law and sent to the States for ratification. The Senate version would require only that the House and Senate have a vote on such an amendment, not ordain its outcome. Both bills would create a congressional commission to make recommendations on how to cut the deficit.

UPDATE: Bush Science Adviser Marburger Dies

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A link to current Science Adviser John Hodren's statement is added.

Dr. John H. Marburger III passed away yesterday. He served as Science Adviser to President George W. Bush.

Marbuger was the third president of State University of New York Stony Brook and the current president, Samuel Stanley, announced the passing of this "admired scientist and beloved gentleman." Marburger had battled non-Hodgkins lymphona for four years according to the Washington Post. He was 70.

He presided over the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) during the entire Bush presidency. During the Augustine Committee deliberations on the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program, Marbuger gave a frank account of his perspective on President Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration that surprised many.

He was not enthusiastic about how the Vision had been implemented, with its almost single-minded focus on getting astronauts back to the Moon by 2020 and on to Mars. "It would be a mistake to assume that the actual development path for space exploration since 2004 has accurately reflected the overall concept of the Vision," he said.

Dr. John Holdren, the current presidential science adviser, issued a statement praising Marburger's public service and scientific contributions.


Senate Committee Subpoenas NASA SLS Documents

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee subpoenaed NASA documents relating to its design of the Space Launch System (SLS) according to news reports and other sources.


Space News and NASAWatch are among the news sources reporting that the subpoena was issued. Space News says it was sent yesterday.

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate committee and its Science and Space subcommittee sent a letter to NASA in June asking for documents relating to the SLS and warned the agency that it would take further steps if the documents were not produced.

Congress directed NASA to develop a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) or Space Launch System (SLS) in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The Obama Administration cancelled the Bush-era HLLV, Ares V, in its FY2011 budget request. It wanted NASA to subsidize private sector companies to build a "commercial crew" transportation system for use in low Earth orbit (LEO) while NASA developed game-changing technologies for new launch vehicles to someday take astronauts beyond LEO. Congress disagreed. The compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was for NASA to do both, but Congress feels that NASA is dragging its feet on the SLS.

NASA sent an interim report to Congress in January on the SLS, but the date for the final report continues to slip. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who until recently indicated that the plan would be released this summer, told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on July 12 that it may not be ready until the fall because he has asked for independent cost estimates.

Obama Supports Weather Satellites as NOAA's GOES-11 Helps Injured Alaskan Hikers

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama included weather satellites as an example of the type of program that really does need federal funding in his speech to the nation on Monday. Weather satellites are not just critical to weather forecasting, either. As the survivors of the recent grizzly bear attack in Alaska know, NOAA's satellites are part of the global emergency locator system for people in distress.

In a story that made national headlines, a group of seven students hiking in Alaska were attacked by a mother grizzly bear. Four of the students were injured and two required hospitalization. Other members of the group activated an emergency locator transmitter to get help. NOAA's GOES-11 geostationary satellite picked up the signal and helped identify their location. One of Europe's polar orbiting weather satellites further pinpointed it, allowing rescuers to reach the group about 93 miles north of Anchorage.

The United States, Canada, France and the Soviet Union decided to form the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite-based search and rescue system in 1979. The transponders are placed on weather satellites. The system has supported more than 28,000 rescues worldwide since 1982 when the first COSPAS-SARSAT equipped satellite was launched.

On Monday, President Obama addressed the nation about the debt limit/deficit reduction stalemate. In his remarks about the need for a balanced approach to resolving those issues he said:

"We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -- things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research."

The House Appropriations Committee approved significant cuts to NOAA's satellite programs in marking up the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill on July 13. The bill has not passed the House and the Senate has not acted yet.

NASA Chooses First Class of Space Technology Fellows

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA announced the first class of Space Technology research fellows today.

NASA's Office of Chief Technologist chose 81 students to receive grants to pursue master's or doctorate level studies in relevant space technology disciplines. The research will be performed at the student's home institution, NASA centers, or non-profit U.S. research and development laboratories.

Juno Ready for Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Juno mission to Jupiter is on schedule and on budget according to NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green. The $1.107 billion probe is scheduled for launch next week.

The spacecraft, enclosed in its payload fairing, was mated with its Atlas V rocket this morning. Launch will be from SLC 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5. The launch window remains open through August 26.

Reporters at NASA's press conference today focused on why the spacecraft uses solar power instead of nuclear power. All the spacecraft that have travelled beyond the asteroid belt so far used nuclear Radioisotope Power Systems (RPSs) because the density of sunlight diminishes rapidly as one moves further from the Sun. Juno's three solar arrays are each the length and width of a tractor trailer, said Juno project manager Jan Chodas from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Because solar energy is 25 times less at Jupiter's distance than at Earth, they will generate only 400 watts of power - akin to four 100 watt light bulbs -- despite their size.

The orbit of Juno will go between Jupiter's radiation belts and 5,000 kilometers above the surface of the clouds. Over time the radiation will degrade solar array performance, but principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute said that the mission's scientific investigations will be completed in one year, so it is not a mission limiting factor.

Bolton explained scientists' fascination with Jupiter. He said that after the Sun formed, Jupiter got the rest of the "leftovers" and "we want the ingredient list" to learn the "recipe" for making planets.

What is at the center of Jupiter remains unknown. Bolton wants to know if it has a core of heavy elements or if the gas in the atmosphere just keeps getting compressed the further down one goes. The pressure at the center is thought to be 400 megabars (one bar is equivalent to the pressure on the surface of the Earth). Whatever is there is "not like what we have on Earth," he said, which is why he does not like to use the term "rock" to describe what may be there.

Kaelyn Badura, a high school student from Deltona, FL, talked about her involvement in the project along with other high school students. They are using NASA's Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope to make baseline observations of Jupiter. Bolton added that NASA has been working with students in this manner for some years, including for the Galileo and Cassini missions. The students get to "do science first hand," calibrating and analyzing data taken with the radio telescope from their classrooms via the Internet. Badura said that she was learning not only about science, but how to work as part of a team. Her school has been involved since 2006.

Juno will take five years to reach Jupiter, returning to Earth's vicinity in 2013 to get a gravity boost. It will be placed into an 11-day polar orbit around the planet - the first spacecraft to orbit the planet's poles. Italy, Belgium, France and Denmark are participating in the project. Juno is the second of NASA's "New Frontiers" series of competed missions. The New Horizons spacecraft enroute to Pluto was the first. Green said that NASA's goal is to do two New Frontiers missions per decade.

Rep. Wu Announces Intention to Resign

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. David Wu (D-OR) today announced his intention to resign from Congress.

Wu is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

The announcement comes after allegations that he had an unwanted sexual encounter with the teenage daughter of a donor. News reports state that he says the encounter with the 18 year old was consensual. At first he said that he would not seek reelection next year, but changed his mind and decided to resign reportedly after other members of the Oregon congressional delegation and House leaders urged him to do so.

He was first elected to the House in 1999 and was the first Chinese American to serve in that body according to his website. He was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when he was six.

His statement said that he would resign "upon resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis."

Logsdon to Discuss JFK and the Race to the Moon Tommorow at NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The NASA History office announced today that it is hosting a seminar tomorrow, July 27, where John Logsdon will discuss his new book John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

The discussion will take place at the NASA Headquarters auditorium from noon-1:00 pm EDT. Logsdon is an authority on JFK's decision to embark upon a Moon race with the Soviet Union. An earlier Logsdon book, Decision to Go to the Moon, studied what transpired leading up to the President's May 25, 1961 speech to Congress in which he announced the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth before the end of the 1960s. The new book adds the action from that day through the President's assassination in November 1963 as he publicly fought to maintain political support for the goal while privately questioning whether it was worth the cost.

Laurie Leshin headed to RPI

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Dr. Laurie Leshin, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration, is leaving NASA and headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York.

RPI made the announcement today. She will be Dean of the School of Science.

Leshin was Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies and the Dee and John Whiteman Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University before joining NASA. She was a member of the Aldridge Commission established by President George W. Bush after his announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration in January 2004. The Commission, chaired by former Secretary of the Air Force Edward "Pete" Aldridge, issued the report "A Journey to Inspire, Innovate and Discover."

She was named Deputy Director for Science and Exploration at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 2005, and moved to headquarters early last year as Deputy Director of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD).

NASA has indicated that with the retirement of the space shuttle, it plans to merge ESMD and the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD).




Google Moon 2.0 X-Prizes Draw Diverse Teams

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 26-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

While funding for the U.S. space program remains an open question with budget talks at a standstill, Google is luring private firms and non-profits to the Moon with $30 million in prizes.

For companies investing upwards of $100 million in their entries, the prize money may not be much of a draw. Yet the prospect of taking the lead in what some expect to be the start of a new wave of lunar exploration - termed Moon 2.0 - may prove to be compelling nonetheless.

A primary driver for many of those involved in the Google Lunar X Prize is not prestige or science, but profit, with companies staking their claims based on a variety of business cases. Moon Express, which was awarded one of three $500,000 NASA contracts as part of the agency's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data project late last year, "is positioning itself as a future FedEx for Moon deliveries," according to the New York Times. Moon Express, which also plans to sell broadcasting rights and sponsorships to finance its lunar trips, has certainly been making waves. At the recent 2011 Lunar Science Forum, it announced that former NASA Associate Administrator for Science, Dr. Alan Stern, would join as its Chief Scientist and mission architect.

Not every one of the 28 teams in the running is hunting for profit, though. The Juxtopia Urban Robotics Brilliant Application National (JURBAN) team, for example, is made up of professional and student engineers and was formed by Juxtopia, a U.S. non-profit research organization. According to their Google X-Prize profile, the JURBAN team wants to show under-served and disadvantaged populations "that innovatively applying [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] STEM skills can be achieved not only to create something 'cool' and exciting, but to complete a product with world humanity impact and pride."

Another team, the German-Chinese Selene, seeks to promote cooperation between the two countries and to "dispel the myth that China's design and engineering prowess is merely the product of reverse engineering," according to their website. They add that their success may contribute to the broader space science community and "provide support to the ongoing humanitarian efforts to achieve better living conditions here on Earth."

Whether one of these or any of the active teams will make it to the finish line is anyone's guess. Five teams have pulled out of the race in the last couple of years, often pointing out challenges of a non-technical nature, such as bureaucratic and organizational obstacles. A lot may change as the December 2015 deadline nears, but policy shifts in Washington are drawing attention to private ventures as a plausible alternative to government missions. Soon enough robotic spacecraft sporting company logos as they touch down on the lunar surface may be common....with billions of people around the world watching.

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